Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taiwanese Tradition~ Moon Festival

OK, so not all of the posts here will pertain specifically to Lolita fashion directly! Some of it is simply local life or traditions, but I hope that my readers will find it interesting anyway :)

Jade Rabbit and Chang E/嫦娥

The Moon Festival is fast approaching! This Wednesday, the 22nd is the 15th day of the 8th month on the Lunar calendar. One of the more important traditional Chinese Festivals, the Moon Festival celebrates the end of autumn and family time (the roundness of the moon represents togetherness).

Moon cakes/月餅 are the traditional food, along with 柚子/pomeloes. Funny side story: All my life I thought pomelos were called "sweeties" because that was what my mom called them. I only just found out a couple weeks ago that they are called pomeloes v_v; I think "Sweetie" may have been the brand of pomelo my mom used to buy, sort of like the brand of clementine called "Cuties". I felt pretty silly, needless to say!

Today I would like to introduce some legends and a recipe for mooncakes if you don't want to buy the commercial variety!

The Legend of Chang E
The Earth was once lit up by 10 suns in the sky. However, 10 suns was too many, and the people of Earth were starting to die from the heat. One brave archer named Hou Yi shot 9 of the suns and saved the people. In order to thank him, they made him Emperor. He took a beautiful wife named Chang E.
After some time however, Hou Yi became selfish and lazy and cared only about eating, drinking, and having a good life, neglecting the common people. One day, he realized that he was aging and sent scouts to find an elixir (or pill) for eternal youth/life. When the scouts came back with two pills of immortality, Chang E became worried that eternal rule by Hou Yi would mean eternal misery for the people, so she got him drunk and ate both pills. Suddenly her body became very light and she started floating in the air. Hou Yi woke up and realized that she had taken both pills but he could not stop her from floating away. She floated all the way to the moon and still lives there to this day.
Don't point at the moon because Chang E will cut your ear off :( Actually, that is just what our parents tell us, but one time I did point at the moon and developed a small but painful cut in the fold of my ear the next day :( Since then I have avoided pointing at the moon, and if it happened by accident I would always apologize ^^; And it is not just me! I was talking with some of the counselors from the camp I was at and they said that their parents said the same thing and they avoid pointing at the moon, too! Better safe than sorry!

I know the story of Chang E best; I am not quite as familiar with the story of the Jade Rabbit (though I know he is Chang E's pet now!) or the Wood Cutter Wu Kang.
Here is a link with a brief summary of all three legends :)

The history behind the Moon Festival says that when China was occupied by enemy forces there was no way for the military to organize a rebellion with the captured portion of the army, so the general made moon cakes and hid little slips of paper saying to attack on the 15th day of the 8th month. He sent them as gifts to the prisoners and they all broke out at the scheduled time and had a victory!

I am not sure how true all those stories are, but moon cakes sure are delicious! I just wish that they were not so unhealthy. Commercial moon cakes are loaded with fat, oil, sugar, and cholesterol if you get the salted egg yolk flavor. Unfortunately, my favorite flavor is red bean paste with salted egg yolk ^^;

There are a couple recipes online for homemade moon cakes, but this is my favorite one because of the double dough skin. Many Chinese pastries are made this way with a water dough and an oily/flaky dough. This gives a much better (and more authentic) texture to the pastry! Moon cake molds are available online in many different shapes with intricate carvings, floral depictions, or words. I wish I could make my own moon cakes this year, but being in Taiwan I have no oven :( Let me know if you try your own!

As a side note, red bean paste is available in cans if you do not want to tackle making your own. Some other filling ideas include lotus seed paste, sesame, salted egg yolk, or anything else you can think of!

In modern days, there are also a lot of interesting "novelty" moon cakes such as ice cream or mochi types! Haagen Daz sells moon cakes here in Taiwan (though it is pretty expensive!) as does Starbucks. I would like to try a box of these novelty types, and will definitely post photos if I do!